Tallis, Frank - 'Death and the Maiden'
DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is the sixth novel by Frank Tallis featuring Dr Max Liebermann, a young psychoanalyst in Vienna, and his friend Detective Inspector Rheinhardt of the Viennese Security Department.
A foggy morning in Vienna and Detective Inspector Oskar Rheinhardt has been called to the villa of Ida Rosenkrantz, a celebrated soprano in the Court Opera. Within the opulent bedroom with its heady perfume of hyacinths, the body of Miss Rosenkrantz lies on the floor, an empty phial of laudanum at her side. Accidental overdose? Suicide? Her doctor takes the view that her death is the result of accidental overdose. But she had needed to consult a psychiatrist earlier in the year, in fact it was her psychiatrist who had prescribed the laudanum, so could it be suicide? Rheinhardt is uneasy. The way that the body lies on the Persian rug, neatly and symmetrically within its borders, seems an unnatural position for an accidental death. And when Rheinhardt is called in by the pathologist who finds a broken rib during his post mortem examination of the soprano's body, both Rheinhardt and the pathologist are inclined towards the possibility that this is a case of murder. Rheinhardt discusses the circumstances of the case with his friend Dr Max Liebermann who agrees that the broken rib suggests "compressive asphyxiation". Whilst Ida Rosenkrantz was unconscious from the laudanum someone had crushed the breath from her body, breaking her rib in the process. Liebermann suggests that the killer was then either in too much of a hurry to notice the unnatural placement of her body, or had themselves placed it so - the act of an obsessive? Whatever else, the two friends understand that the death of this highly popular and attractive young soprano of the Court Opera will lead the investigation into a sensitive arena - that of the city's rich and powerful, if not of the Imperial Court itself.
Set against the background of Vienna in the early 20th century, the main plot of DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is the investigation into who killed the soprano Ida Rosenkrantz. In addition through his own musical devotion Max Liebermann becomes obsessed with a possible crime of passion within the musical world of the previous generation. Then there is the question of Liebermann's own feelings for an ex-patient, the young English woman Amelia Lydgate. Throughout Rheinhardt and Liebermann display a Holmes and Watson relationship as they work together to track and trap the killer of Ida Rosenkrantz, although in their case the "doctor" (Liebermann) appears to lead and inform the "detective" (Rheinhardt).
Tallis paints the cultural atmosphere with convincing detail. Both the book and the city glitter with art, culture, and music. This is heralded by the fact that the book's title is also that of a Schubert string quartet and echoed in details such as "The Kiss", one of the chapters titles, being also the name of a painting by the quintessential and controversial Viennese artist of the period, Gustav Klimt. Rheinhardt and Liebermann's friendship is cemented by music, Liebermann being an accomplished pianist and Rheinhardt the possessor of a "pleasant baritone" voice. Characters in the novel include the composer Gustav Mahler, appearing in his role of Director of the Court Opera, and Sigmund Freud who discusses psychoanalysis with Liebermann. But Tallis also depicts a society enmeshed in anti-Semitism as it revolves around the two poles of its political life, the powerful Mayor Karl Lueger and the Emperor Franz Josef, head of the Hapsburg Empire.
I have to admit that despite Tallis' convincing detail and atmosphere, or perhaps even because of it, the events following on from Rheinhardt's confrontation with Miss Rosenkrantz's killer became so nuanced that I was left confused as to the actual final outcome of the investigation. But I hold up my hand to say this may be a lapse on my part. Without a doubt DEATH AND THE MAIDEN is an atmospheric historical crime novel, and a fascinating blend of faction, psychology and whodunnit that informs as much as it entertains.
Read another review of DEATH AND THE MAIDEN.
Lynn Harvey, England